It’s the same for every 11am football game.

While everyone else sleeps in, far before dawn, there’s already a uniformed crew springing to action to prepare for the day ahead. And no, it’s not the football team. It’s the marching band.

For the band, game days start with a 6am call time, with one final rehearsal before marching in front of the stadium attendees late that morning.

While my brain reminds me that I used to do this every week throughout fall for all four years of college, my body this morning screams in revolt from every cell. My 5:20 wake up call is not going well. At 31 years old, it gets a little tougher each year. I don’t get as much practice as I used to. Nowadays it’s just once a year for our annual homecoming. Which happens to be today.

If you happen to tune in for the Northwestern-Nebraska game this afternoon, you’ll be in for a somewhat odd sight. In addition to the regular band, that polished, high energy group of purple clad students, you’ll see…well, a more motley crew: A hodgepodge of Northwestern University Marching Band alumni. We’ll be the ones breathing heavily, desperately trying to march in formation, and wearing a level of earnestness and exhaustion we haven’t sported since college. They call us NUMBALUMS.

Once a year, we’re invited back to revisit the mania of marching in synchrony in freezing weather conditions that starts before the sun comes up. Then we play two if not three concerts, work ourselves to the brink of passing out on the field as we attempt to relive our glory days when we could actually playing our fight song a tempo. As a reward for all of this work, we are invited to stand for the duration of the football game, chiming in with our musical enterludes and cheers (that is, if we can keep up).

So far I’ve never missed a Homecoming. These reunions are reminders for me of an era in my life that it seems important to revisit every now and then. Marching with your section, hearing the sound of brass instruments in the breeze, remembering how to breathe from the diaphragm, looking up at the box office and the stands while holding formation, listening closely for the unmistakable sound of voices singing our Alma Mater back at you… there’s something about it that brings you home. Even as you feel like you may never recover.

At the end of the day, win or lose, we’ll be beaten down and broken and swear we’ll never do it again.

That is, until Homecoming next year. Go ‘Cats.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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